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Radical clergy and the Democratic Party

By Moshe Phillips
web posted March 31, 2008
 
Have you heard about the Democratic presidential candidate and that candidate's links to a radical clergyman?
 
Did you know that the clergyman had been arrested for conspiracy and criminal political violence in the early 1970s? Some of the things the clergyman wrote around that time were:
 
"The Jewish community is racist, internally corrupt…"
 
"The synagogue as currently established will have to be smashed."
 
"Black anti-Semitism…is not an anti-Semitism rooted in …hatred of the Christ-killers but rather one rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks…"
 
What's that you say? You had not heard that Barack Obama's pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, had been arrested for violent acts? You did not know he said these things?
 
Wright was not the clergyman responsible the above these quotes (which are from a 1969 article in Judaism magazine) and he was not arrested for conspiracy in the 1970s. And the candidate is not Obama. This article is about Hillary Clinton and her friendship with her "Politics of Meaning" guru Rabbi Michael Lerner and he wrote those things.
 
Michael LernerA 1993 Time Magazine article by Priscilla Painton titled "The Politics of What?" relates Lerner's influence on Clinton's thinking then. When Hillary Clinton was the First Lady perhaps other than the Monica Lewinsky scandal, national healthcare, and It takes a Village she is recalled for the introduction of the idea of "Politics of Meaning" to the nation's marketplace of ideas.
 
What is not known is what impact the "Politics of Meaning" and the creator of this idea, Michael Lerner, will have on the Israel policy in a future Clinton Administration.
 
Lerner is best known as the publisher of the leftist political journal Tikkun since its founding in 1986. The Clintons read the magazine and according to many press reports the ideas in the extremist magazine had a powerful effect on them. Hillary Clinton called for "a new politics of meaning" in her major April 6, 1993 speech on health care at the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, Lerner was labeled "the guru of the White House" by the press.
 
Now, of course, Michael Lerner is a sham rabbi, even if he was the Clintons' guru. He never completed education at a rabbinical college or yeshiva and his 1995 rabbinical ordination was led by the radical Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of the far out Jewish Renewal group. But, Michael Lerner had a profound effect on Hillary Clinton in the 1990s.
 
Lerner does have a doctorate in philosophy from University of California at Berkeley. While at Berkley he was a leader in the Free Speech Movement, the SDS and the militant, revolutionary left in the Bay Area. Other products of that time and place are the Weatherman / Weather Underground, the Black Panther Party and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
 
Lerner left Berkley and took a position as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle. On February 17, 1970 just 2 days after campus visit from the "Chicago Seven" leader Jerry Rubin, Lerner founded the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF).
 
The SLF soon absorbed the veteran SDS activists on campus and began its anti-government, anti-Vietnam war militancy. An early leader of the SLF with Lerner was Susan Stern. Stern was already involved with the Weathermen and later penned a memoir titled With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman. She died of a drug overdose in 1976. Among the people Stern wrote about in her book was Cathy Wilkerson whom she met in the Weathermen. Wilkerson's father's Greenwich Village home was the site of the Weathermen March 6, 1970 "Townhouse Explosion". Cathy Wilkerson was there that night and had offered the home to the terrorists. They were building a bomb that was to be used in an attack at Fort Dix in New Jersey that night against U.S. soldiers. Three Weathermen were killed in the explosion and Wilkerson would spend the next 10 years hiding underground. It is not known if Lerner knew Wilkerson.
 
Just a month after its founding the SLF launched a protest at Seattle's Federal Courthouse and police were attacked with paint bombs, tear gas and rocks. Twenty people were injured and 76 arrested during the fighting between police and protesters.
 
Lerner and six others were indicted on conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury. The first trial of the Seattle Seven, as the criminal conspirators were dubbed, was declared a mistrial. All the conspirators except for Lerner served jail terms from contempt charges stemming from their misbehavior at the first trial and there was never a second trial on the original conspiracy charges.
 
On March 11, 1970 Lerner and his fellow revolutionaries set their sights on the University of Washington. Six buildings were taken over and a strike was declared. Fourteen faculty members and students were beaten by the strikers. Local newspapers at the time showed Lerner with a bullhorn leading the protesters.
 
Lerner stated in a 1970 interview with the Seattle Times that "The only place left for those who want social change is to be fighting in the streets."  Twenty some odd years later he was off the streets and was a guest at the White House. The Clintons invited Lerner and Arthur Waskow. another '60s radical turned Jewish Renewal rabbi from Philadelphia, as well as other leftist critics of Israel's policies to witness the September 13, 1993 agreement between Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat.
 
By 2003 Clinton sought to sanitize her history with Lerner and he and his Tikkun magazine are curiously left out of her autobiography, Living History.  It is worth noting that she did spend three pages in the book on her "Politics of Meaning" speech.
 
Lerner's views on Israel and the Middle East are still very extreme. The Tikkun website, as of the writing of this column, features a 2008 Tikkun Passover Haggadah supplement that reads in part: "… as we face the 60th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel on May 8th of this year, and simultaneously remember the tragedy (al Nakba) that the creation of the State (of Israel) turned into for our Palestinian brothers and sisters.."
 
The same Lerner who blamed Jews for the social ills of America in the 1960s and 1970s consistently seeks to blame the U.S. and Israel, and never any Islamic state, for all of the turmoil in the Middle East .
 
Hillary Clinton may have left Lerner out of her book, but is he out of her life? Does she have a closer relationship with any rabbi, self-styled or not? How does Lerner's outlook still influence her thinking on the Middle East? Does she still read Tikkun? It looks like two different Democratic presidential candidates have had interpersonal relationships with radical clergymen that they need to clarify to voters. Will Hillary Clinton? ESR
 
Moshe Phillips is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter's new website is at: www.phillyafsi.com.


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